Monday, 14 August 2017

Gordon's Alive: A Trip To Black Mesa

I wasn't sure quite what to expect from Black Mesa, a fan created mod to recreate Half Life in it's sequel's more modern engine. The project has been long, and indeed still continues. A large group of people are even now continuing to create and refine the original Half-Life experience from the initial tram ride all the way to the interplanetary finale. Not to mention that now, as a standalone experience, you must pay to experience it, like Dear Ester or The Stanley Parable.

It is entirely worth it though. Every penny (at time of writing, a mere £14.99). While on some levels it is the exact same game I played some nineteen years prior, the level of detail and polish exceeded my expectations. Certain sections have been changed completely, or been given such an overhaul as to be far superior to what was possible in 1998.

What they have created is a game that feels much like the classic game, while improving in little touches where they can to appease the more modern eye. The game plays much as it did before, lots of exploration and progress through the crumbling edifice of the labyrinthine science and technology buildings leading towards the inevitable journey to another world, an attempt to stop what you yourself started back in the test chamber.

In many ways, I enjoyed it more so than Half Life 2, with Black Mesa having an absence of lengthy vehicle sections and far more limited physics distractions. A lot of the original games bland boxy rooms and dull corridors have been enlivened by the additional work done by the modders, increased detail for textures and rooms filled with appropriate equipment, lighting and surfaces.

As much as I often enjoy going back to old favourites from my past, such games being given a boost by re-creating them in a more modern style is sometimes very welcome. I am sometimes wary of similar projects, not least because they can be shut down by those that own the intellectual property rights, but also because they might lose what made the original special.

As a rule I would always tell those involved in such a project to instead work on something they can distribute and profit from themselves, but this is to ignore the reason people are so keen to recreate these games, the love they had for the original and the desire to improve or expand upon them.

I look forward to see what they make of Xen, a part of the game which I really didn't enjoy in the past. It was truly alien in a way, certainly a stark change from the offices, laboratories and industrial areas of the rest of the game. However, it felt like they were unable to give the area a proper structure or feel, and often each area of Xen felt disparate and unconnected to the rest. An alien world, maybe, but not one that looked believable or intriguing.

So I wish all the best to The Crowbar Collective and Black Mesa, and I hope they finish off the game with aplomb.

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